Suburban Sprawl

From The New York Times:

There’s a touching paradox in the first chapter of Jami Attenberg’s caustic, entertaining and bighearted new novel, “The Middlesteins.” Edie, 5 years old and 62 pounds, is already too solid, in her mother’s estimation, too big for her age. But how can her mother not feed her, when she and her husband feel that food is “made of love, and love . . . made of food”? How can these parents deny Edie life-giving nourishment when Edie’s father, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, nearly starved on his journey to Chicago and has never been able to get enough to eat since? Even though it’s clear that young Edie suffers under her own weight — she huffs and puffs up the stairs “like someone’s gassy old uncle after a meal” — her mother can’t refuse her the liverwurst and rye bread she loves. This is a Jewish mother after all, and those of us who’ve had one know that the message, when it comes to food, is always have a little more. It’s an attitude that comes not just from love, but also from fear; a history fraught with disaster and hunger gives rise to the feeling that one must always be prepared. Therefore, bubbeleh, have another matzo ball.

Food keeps us alive, yes. But it can also kill us. That subject has become a cultural obsession, inciting cautionary documentaries (HBO’s “Weight of the Nation” series), reality TV shows (“The Biggest Loser” and “Dance Your Ass Off”), large-scale civic regulations (New York’s banning of trans fats and oversize sugary drinks), and, at the White House, an enormous kitchen garden carved from the first lawn, along with a book (Michelle Obama’s “American Grown”) and a presidential call for action to improve America’s eating habits. This novel takes the issue personally: Edie Middlestein, the novel’s larger-than-life protagonist, is killing herself by overeating, and her family can’t bear to watch.

At 60 years old or so, Edie weighs in at more than 300 pounds and suffers from diabetes so severe she requires stents in both legs.

More here.